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Alan Noel Latimer “Tim” Munby ( 1913-1974 )

The legendary bibliophile Alan Noel Latimer “Tim” Munby was born in Hampstead, London on Christmas Day in 1913. The son of an architect, he developed a consuming fascination for antiquarian books from a young age. His collecting habits continued throughout his studies at Clifton College and King’s College, Cambridge University, where he studied Classics and English. He then started working at Quaritch’s, the noted rare bookseller in London, and later at Sotheby’s.

In 1936 Munby joined the Queen Victoria’s Rifles (QVR) of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. In May 1940 his unit was sent to Calais, France as part of the 30th Infantry Brigade. While their actions during the siege bought valuable time for the evacuation of British Forces at the Battle of Dunkirk, the surviving men of Munby’s unit were captured by the Germans. Some were killed while others, including Munby, were held as prisoners of war until 1945. During these five years of imprisonment at camps in Laufen, Warburg, and Eichstätt, Munby kept his mind occupied by constant reading. Possessed with unflagging determination and a positive attitude, he entertained his fellow captives with lectures on English literature, plays, and humorous hats and buttons he made by hand. He also told ghost stories, a collection of which were later published under the title The Alabaster Hand (1949). Following the end of war and his subsequent release, Munby was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Territorial Decoration.

Munby was temporarily assigned to the London headquarters of the MFAA Branch of the Control Commission for Germany. There, he worked alongside Monuments Officer Maj. Anne Olivier Popham. The two became lifelong friends. The Monuments Men Foundation is very interested in knowing more about Munby’s involvement with the MFAA. If you have any information, please contact abottinelli@monumentsmenfoundation.org.

Munby returned to Cambridge only to discover that his wife, whom he had married shortly before the outbreak of war, had recently died. He briefly returned to Sotheby’s before accepting a job as Librarian at King’s College in 1947. The next three decades of his career were spent at King’s College, where he established himself as a world-renowned authority on ancient books, libraries, and bibliography. His many appointments include Fellow in 1948, Praelector in 1951, and Domus Bursar in 1964. He remained in his post as Librarian until his death in 1974.

A prolific writer, Munby published books and articles on all manner of topics relating to book collecting. He published Phillipps Studies (1951-1960), a five-volume study of the book collector Sir Thomas Phillipps, The Cult of the Autograph Letter in England (1962), and Connoisseurs and Medieval Miniatures, 1750-1850 (1972). He also served as General Editor of Sale Catalogues and Libraries of Eminent Persons. Due to his reputation, he was named Lyall Reader in Bibliography at Oxford in 1962, Sandars Reader at Cambridge in 1969, and David Murray Lecturer at Glasgow in 1965. He was an honorary Fellow of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, President of the Bibliographical Society, Trustee of the British Museum, and a member of the British Library Board and the Roxburghe Club.

Tim Munby died suddenly from cancer on December 26, 1974. In June 2013, King’s College held a conference in honor of his 100th birthday. The festivities included a panel of experts on the history of books and exhibitions at the college’s library. At the conclusion of the conference, the Munby Centenary Fund was established in his memory. Today, the reading room of the Rare Books Department at Cambridge University Library is called ‘The Munby Rare Books Room.’


Photograph by A.C. Barrington Brown. Courtesy of King's College Library, Cambridge